CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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The Right Word

Yesterday — October 7, 2015 (permalink)

No one practices "fulosphy" anymore.  It's very nearly a Googlewhack.  From Dicks' English Library of Standard Works, 1884.

October 5, 2015 (permalink)

Here's one simple way to change a negative outlook into a positive one, as revealed in The Carolyn Wells Year Book of Old Favorites and New Fancies for 1909.

October 4, 2015 (permalink)

Here's one way to diagram a sentence about a fairy-like creature emerging from a portal.  From Community English by Mildred Flagg, 1921.

October 3, 2015 (permalink)

We tend to appreciate palindromic book titles.  Here's This and That, and That and This by Charles Josiah Adams, 1919.

September 15, 2015 (permalink)

We checked, and we're pleased that our one and only bit of advice to writers is a Googlewhack.  The only other person to have said this is the poet Eric Pankey, in The Journal of the Virginia Writing Project (Winter 2004): "Change all similes to metaphors."  A simile, with that pesky word "like," "draws attention to itself as a simile" (which we ourselves say but which we found quoted elsewhere because things sound better when others say them, such as John Bird in Mark Twain and Metaphor, 2007, or, perhaps even better, S. J. Harrison in "Meta-Imagery: Some Self-Reflexive Similes in Latin Epic": "[a simile] draws attention to its own formal status as a comparison"). 

September 11, 2015 (permalink)

Jonathan Caws-Elwitt reports:

Wibderfyk is the word that appears when a touch-typist attempts to type wonderful with his or her right hand situated one position farther to the left than it's supposed to be.  Once having discovered it, the erring typist may find this word irresistible, and may make a point of deliberately substituting it for wonderful.

September 5, 2015 (permalink)

Thanks to the reviewer over at Amazon who rated our Hexopedia four stars: "Interesting read!  So far, the effects are subtle, but they are there."
Meanwhile, here's a page from the book, revealing the forgotten secret of bibliomancy:

August 14, 2015 (permalink)

"God alone knows the power of an adjective, especially in new, tropical countries." —Machado de Assis, Epitaph of a Small Winner

August 12, 2015 (permalink)

"Goativity," from Stock Designs of Book Division Inserts, 1922.

August 8, 2015 (permalink)

This is how to spell coyote.  From B. C. 1887: A Ramble in British Columbia by James Arthir Lees. 1888.

July 25, 2015 (permalink)

Here's one of those marvelous moments in which a sitcom character gains self-awareness, from the "Strong Stuff, This Insurance" episode of Are You Being Served?  Mrs. Slocombe, famous for saying things like, "Today's the day my pussy comes of age," tells a co-worker, "Everything you say is full of innuendo and double-entendre."

July 18, 2015 (permalink)

As we noted in the special one-letter words edition of The Shakespeare Papers (revealed here), R is the dog's letter.   Romeo and Juliet aside, we find a canine T in Outing magazine, 1885.

July 17, 2015 (permalink)

"He jests at scars who never felt a what-you-may-call-it." —Maurice Dolbier, Nowhere Near Everest: An Ascent to the Height of the Ridiculous

July 16, 2015 (permalink)

Here's a peek at Jim Girouard's forthcoming Journey into Eternity.  (Hear our clockwork remix of one of Jim's songs here.  Our coverage of his letter cube divination system is here.)

July 10, 2015 (permalink)

"Uh, uh-uh, uh-uh-uh, or uh-uh-uh-uh?"  From the "Fifty Years On" episode of Are You Being Served?  Yes, the illumined writers found a way to grunt one of the character's names for over four minutes (the grunts being placeholders in the "Happy Birthday" song for possible syllables of Mrs. Slocombe's unknown first name).  The scene transports us to the bizarre with typical British efficiency.

July 8, 2015 (permalink)

"Alackaday!"  From The Bashful Earthquake by Oliver Herford (1899).

July 6, 2015 (permalink)

We're delighted by these words from three-time Guinness Book of World Records holder Jeff McBride:

The text reads: "Hexopedia promotes a deliberately positive, universal message about empowering one’s communication skills for beneficial results.  The Hexopedia is expressly designed to foster treasured youthful experiences, inspiring a love of literacy and learning as it promotes intellectual growth through enchantment and entertainment."

July 2, 2015 (permalink)

The following is from our guest piece for magician Jeff McBride's Museletter:

The most controversial word that magicians use might very well be “laypeople.”  Its primary definition of course refers to a non-ordained member of a church, but that’s the least of the problem.  We might do well to consider whether the very idea of laypeople is an illusion in itself.   As a well-diplomaed philosopher, if my professor friend Larry chatted about the nature of reality with a stranger, that person wouldn’t strictly be a “layperson” but a fellow philosopher (even if to a lower “degree”).  

The very concept of a layperson might put up invisible walls that are more of a disservice to the magician than to his or her participants in wonder.  That’s because we all have specialized knowledge and experiences that others don’t, and if only we had a way of knowing how to communicate them, we’d all blow each other’s minds quite regularly.  Sure, a magician may know the secret of a particular card trick that the participant doesn’t, yet a participant may be well-practiced in some other operation or art equally difficult or requiring flair.  The participant may in fact know a card trick of his or her own, too, but not necessarily self-identify as a magician.  The word “layperson” literally means a non-expert person, and is that how we’d describe our audiences (at least on our better days)?

A passage in César Aira's novelette The Literary Conference feels apropos, in that it's about how unlikely it is for any two people on earth to have read even just two of the same books, and how the unlikelihood increases exponentially for three books and so on: 

An intellectual's uniqueness can be established by examining their combined readings.  How many people can there be in the world who have read these two books: The Philosophy of Life Experience by A. Bogdanov, and Faust by Estanislao del Campo?  Let us put aside, for the moment, any reflections these books might have provoked, how they resonated or were assimilated, all of which would necessarily be personal and nontransferable.  Let us instead turn to the raw fact of the two books themselves.  The concurrence of both in one reader is improbable, insofar as they belong to two distinct cultural environments and neither belongs to the canon of universal classics.  Even so, it is possible that one or two dozen intellectuals across a wide swathe of time and space might have taken in this twin nourishment.  As soon as we add a third book, however, let us say La Poussière de Soleil by Raymond Roussel, that number becomes drastically reduced.  If it is not 'one' (that is, I), it will come very close.  Perhaps it is 'two,' and I would have good reason to call the other 'mon semblable, mon frére.'  One more book, a fourth, and I could be absolutely certain of my solitude.  But I have not read four books; chance and curiosity have placed thousands in my hands.  And besides books, and without departing from the realm of culture, there are records, paintings, movies ...  All of that as well as the texture of my days and nights since the day I was born, gave me a mental configuration different from all others.  [p. 9]  

Indeed, every person has a unique mental configuration, meaning that we’re all fellow unlikelihoods, all brethren of wonder.  What if no one of us has ever technically met a “layperson”?  What would happen if a performer came on stage, looked at a sea of faces in the audience, and quoted Bob Neale about what an honor is it is to be in the presence of so many genuine magicians?  Even at a pro-magicians-only conference, given just how manymagics there are  (see Magic and Meaning by Eugene Burger and Robert E. Neale), who is technically ordained when there’s no one holy order, no one definition of kosher?  How does the concept of a “layperson” serve us?

As Bob Neale has expressed it: "I am a magician . . . and so are you.  We are all magicians—illusionists—who survive, take pleasure, and find meaning in life by means of the illusions we create.  I am here to remind you that such magic runs rampant in our lives and that this is a good thing."


Max Maven adds:

George Bernard Shaw, 1906: "Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity."


June 22, 2015 (permalink)

The quest to decode the individual letters in a name goes way, way back.  Our research triggered a realization that every name encodes an ancient Egypitan poem.  As the original publication of our findings is freshly out of print, and as it was originally intended exclusively for professional magicians and mentalists, we were inspired to offer a revised and expanded edition containing twice the number of example readings, so that anyone can perform the technique for friends.  No memory or guesswork is required.  You’ll understand the hidden Egyptian meaning of your name instantly, and you’ll be able to dramatically interpret friends’ names.  You don’t have to be a poet or expert on symbolism to shine with our technique.  You’ll simply say aloud what you secretly know the letters to mean.  Here are the details.

June 8, 2015 (permalink)

5x5 magic word squares are incredibly rare, with the Pompeiian Sator / Arepo / Tenet / Opera / Rotas being the best known by far.  (Futility Closet featured the Revel / Evere / Veoev / Ereve / Lever grid, which reads as a palindromic sentence though not as a magic square.)  But there are three other 5x5 word squares explained in The Young Wizard's Hexopedia, including this one: Balam / Avada / Labal / Adava / Malab.  Balam is a name for supernatural intuition, derived from the diviner called Balaam in the Torah.  Avada is an Estonian word that means "open."  Labal is the occult name for the revealer of all the mysteries of the Earth (described in The Lesser Key of Solomon).  Adava is a Marathi word for a winding road.  And Malab is a Somali word for honey, which is a code for "alchemical gold," which itself is a code for immortality.  Woven together into a grid, these words form a charm that conjures magic insight so as to reveal the mysterious pathway toward everlasting light.

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Original Content Copyright © 2015 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.